Another Bo-blue vehicle to carry me to the next stage of life: Column
This was not my first Father’s Day without my dad, but it was the first Father’s Day since I turned 16 that the car in my driveway didn’t first belong to him.
I am not picky about vehicles. I have exactly two needs in a vehicle: that is has air-conditioning, and that it has a good stereo system. And when you have such low standards for vehicles, you will happily accept any vehicle offered to you, no matter the make, model or condition.
Like most people, my very first vehicle was a hand-me-down. It was a 1990 Nissan S-10 truck, which my dad got around the time when the oil and gas industry wasn’t doing well, but we couldn’t go without a second vehicle, a truck in a color that we’d later refer to as “Bo-blue” because it was the color of car he gravitated towards the most. So he got this truck with zero frills: stick-shift transmission, no radio, no power steering, no power windows, and if you needed it to go in four-wheel drive, you had to get out and manually lock the hubcaps into place. By the time I got it, it had well over 100,000 miles on it, but he gussied it up by installing a radio in it, a radio that only worked if the truck was in reverse or if someone slammed the passenger door really, really hard.
But I didn’t care. I had a vehicle, and that’s all that mattered, and that was my first in a long line of hand-me-down vehicles, each one a little better than the last: a 1992 Nissan Maxima, made back when Nissan was putting the same engine in their consumer vehicles as they were in their professional racing cars; a Jeep Cherokee, nicknamed “Old Burgundy” that I thought was the classiest vehicle I’d ever own because the radio had six different preset buttons you could set; a silver Nissan Pathfinder that was my first foray into satellite radio, which came in handy when I was commuting all over West Virginia running title.
But it was my next blue vehicle that might have been my favorite of all my dad’s hand-me-downs: a 2007 Lincoln Navigator that at first I found completely intimidating. The thing could seat eight and still had ample trunk space. It sat up so high, I was looking down on every vehicle on the road except tractor trailers. The first time I drove it, I felt like I was driving a boat, which was ironic, because that’s exactly why my dad bought it: to have a vehicle big enough to haul a boat. It was an impressive-looking vehicle, almost too fancy for someone as rough as I am on vehicles to drive, for sure, and I knew that long before it ever became my main ride, because of one extra special feature, its automatic running boards.
If you’ve never had automatic running boards, I’m not sure I can explain why they are a feature worthy of note on a car, except to tell you there’s something Jetson-like about opening the door of a vehicle and having this step just slowly lower to the ground in front of you. It adds a real regality to a vehicle, like someone rolling out a red carpet every time you’re just going to the grocery store, not to mention, when a vehicle sits up as high as a Navigator, automatic running boards allow you to get into the car without pulling out a three-step ladder. But even though I thought they were nice, it wasn’t until we attended my grandpa’s funeral that I was made aware that automatic running boards were the kind of nice feature on a car that even strangers did a double-take on.
My grandpa Shot, from Logan, was a lovely man. He was a miner, had a great mechanical mind, was good at keeping his house looking nice and loved nothing more than to indulge in my grandma’s whims. Which explained why he didn’t bat an eye when she moved their grave plots twice before he died, in her endless search for the perfect place to eternally rest.
First she moved them away from a convenient sidewalk because she didn’t want everyone stepping all over her. Then she moved them off up the hillside because it would be too hard to get to them to decorate every holiday. I’m certain she would have moved their gravesite again, but my grandpa passed before she had the chance, although she did ask while we were literally pulling up to the open grave, right behind the hearse, whether my mom thought it was too late to change spots. We had to inform her that yes, that ship had passed.
So my dad pulled the Navi right up to the gravesite down in Logan and let my grandma and my mom out without incident. He and I then exited the vehicle, only to be greeted, not by family, not by the preacher, not even by the funeral home guys, but by the literal gravedigger, still with shovel in hand. And I’ll never forget the exchange that followed:
Mr. Gravedigger: “Hey man, those are some nice running boards you got there. Where’d you get them?”
Dad: “Thanks! They came with the vehicle.”
Mr. Gravedigger, nodding knowingly as he leaned on his shove, replied seriously: “I’m going to get me some of them one day.”
Dad: “I’m sure you can order them!” (small pause) “Well, we’re going to go over there now.” (hooks thumb in direction of Grandpa Shot’s casket). “Nice to meet you!”
Mr. Gravedigger: “Nice to meet you too, man!”
You can’t make a scene like that up. It wasn’t long after that that Dad turned the Navi over to me, at about the worst time you could get a vehicle of that size: when gas was $5 a gallon and I had just taken a job working in Marietta. But I will tell you: A 120-mile round trip, and practically taking a loan out to fill up the tank every two and a half days, was made a little less annoying by those sweet, sweet running boards (also, the six-CD changer in the sound system; I said I was a simple creature).
And those running boards came in handy when Dad got too sick to drive himself to his chemo treatments in his last truck, a 2010 Bo-blue Ford F-150. On treatment days, he’d borrow the Navi and I would reluctantly drive said truck, which did not have automatic running boards and sat up so high I felt like I was climbing into a NASCAR vehicle every time I entered it. When it got so even driving himself wasn’t possible, I’d drive him in the Navi, and he’d complain the whole way about semi-trucks and cruise control.
It was a year after he died that the Navi died as well, leaving that blue F-150 as the last vehicle of his we’d ever own. In the year since he’d died, we hadn’t done much with it — in fact, it had been so long since we’d taken it out that a bag of grass seed we’d forgotten was in the bed had taken root and sprouted, so that was a fun clean-up project for me. But it had all the things I needed in a vehicle: air conditioning and a CD player, and one thing I really liked, 30 different presets for the radio (see the pattern?). And hooked into the fabric of the ceiling were three homemade flies for fly fishing, just waiting for him to pass a good trout stream. I reprogrammed all the radio presets, but those flies stayed right where they were.
Now that truck is gone too, the last Bo-blue vehicle that Dad ever picked out, ever drove me in or let me drive him in. No more hand-me-down vehicles that have his old business cards buried under “The Best of the Eagles” CD in the middle consol. No more glove compartments filled with crumpled receipts he didn’t throw away. No more vehicles that are a part of his history, a part of his stories. The man spent the better part of his life driving around West Virginia getting leases and rights of way and meeting the interesting people that West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York had to offer, and now all those vehicles are gone.
I think that’s why picking out a new car was so hard for me: because a little bit of me kept thinking that one more vehicle, just one more dad-tested-and-approved car, was going to materialize. It would have an absurd amount of miles on it, but still functional enough for someone as non-picky as me. Just one more vehicle of his that I will drive forever because he and I had that same “keep ‘em till they die” philosophy on vehicles. Just one more car from my dad, who only ever wanted me to have vehicles that he knew from personal experience were safe and reliable and would get me wherever it was I wanted to go, on the road and in life.
I did finally get a vehicle. It's used, because years of hand-me-downs have made me more comfortable with used vehicles. It has air conditioning and the ultimate luxury, heated seats. No CD player, but it has 36 presets for the radio. The middle console didn’t have a thing in it when I opened it up, and no crumpled receipts because I’m making an effort to keep it nice. It has everything I need in a vehicle, a bunch of things I need the manual to learn how to use, and a few things I just wanted in it because they make me smile, like three homemade fishing flies hooked into the ceiling. Car inventory is so low right now, I didn’t have much as far as selection, but in the end, I didn’t need a lot of choices. Because the first car I saw when I pulled into the lot, in the very model I wanted, with all the things I needed in a vehicle, was what color? Bo-blue.
Maybe it was coincidence, maybe I’m just silly, but maybe ... maybe my dad did have just one more vehicle left to give me. One more Bo-blue vehicle to drive me through to the next phase of life. I could have done without the monthly payment, Dad, but thank you. Thanks a lot.